Following months of political pressure from Western powers engaged in the fight against ISIS, and due to the fact that an estimated 3,000 of its citizens have joined the self-proclaimed caliphate, Turkey finally hopped on the war bandwagon. They’ve begun bombing ISIS positions along the Turkey-Syria border and allowing allied use of a strategically located air base in Incirlik.
But what appears to be a game-changing event in the war against ISIS may just prove to be yet another historical repeat, and make Turkey this war’s Pakistan.
Turkey’s reluctance to join the fight has been suspicious from the start; the country has been a member of NATO since 1952 and still remains a candidate to join the European Union to this day. Its military is one major regional power, with close to half a million personnel, 700 Leopard tanks, modern weaponry, and an estimated 270 F-16 fighter aircraft. Since ISIS remains to this day mostly a regional threat, Turkey should have been pounding bombs across the border for months. Given an all-out ground war, ISIS simply doesn’t stand a chance against Turkey’s military might. Theirs is a capability that brings into question why countries like Canada and the U.S. are currently carrying most of the burden, notably training Kurdish forces who have been, for the past year, the most effective allies against ISIS.
This is the problem.
I previously wrote how I saw the emergence of ISIS as similar to what happened in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s when the Taliban rose to power. History seems to repeat itself as Turkey’s role and stance have already begun mirroring that of Pakistan in the Afghan War—openly and publicly granting support while covertly supporting the enemy.
Because from Turkey’s point of view, ISIS isn’t their biggest threat. The Kurds are.
It’s no secret that Kurds, who are scattered throughout Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran, have been struggling for years to gain national liberation and political independence—an objective Turkey has always opposed, often violently. Turkey has clashed with the Kurdistan Workers Party, a Marxist offshoot of the overall liberation movement, which is surprisingly listed as a terrorist organization in only seven other NATO countries: Canada, Australia, Spain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Austria, and Germany.
This conflict of interest removes Turkey’s incentive to join the fight against ISIS, as they view it as giving a terrorist organization—the Kurdish PKK—tacit support. Turkish special forces have conducted raids on PKK positions and have rounded up members in the country’s capital, Istanbul. But most appalling are reports that Turkey has been turning a blind eye on ISIS fighters crossing the border to seek medical treatment in Gaziantep and in Adana province.
This is where the resemblance with Pakistan is most striking; for the entire duration of the Afghan War, the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) actively supported the Taliban while NATO forces fought them on the other side of the border.
Some call this hypocrisy. Others call it realpolitik.